Ramadan: Muslims worldwide join in the month of fasting, zakat and iftars

Ramadan prayer fasting

At the Al Abbas Mosque, in Iraq, during a night of Ramadan in 2018. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, MARCH 22: Look to the sky for the sight of a crescent moon, as the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims—nearly a quarter of Earth’s population—begin the month of Ramadan. For Muslims, the period of Ramadan is not fixed: As the Islamic calendar is lunar, the sight of a crescent moon signals the official start of this very important month. (Note: Starting dates in communities around the world may vary by location and by method of calculation, although an official date is always released by Saudi Arabia. This year, it was estimated that Ramadan fasting would officially begin on March 22, but due to the absence of a crescent moon sighting in Saudi Arabia, fasting will instead begin at daybreak on March 23.)

The end of Ramadan—the ninth month of the Islamic calendar—is met with Eid al-Fitr, a festival of the breaking of the fast. Eid al-Fitr marks the beginning of the next lunar month, Shawwal, and is a time of great feasting and family celebrations.

NEWS 2023: London, England is ready for Ramadan, while Premier League and English Football League officials have been asked to provide an opportunity for players to break their fast during evening games across Ramadan, according to ESPN. News sources are finding that Ramadan is now gaining more significant recognition in American public schools, and Yahoo! News reports that a “greener” Ramadan is surging in both popularity and sustainability. With grocery costs rising worldwide, this report from the UK suggests ways to offset or cut increased spending for Ramadan, and this article suggests seven women to follow on Instagram this Ramadan.

Traveling to a Muslim-majority country during Ramadan? This article from Afar suggests ways to embrace this special time of year in these countries.

Looking for recipes? Epicurious has released “A Busy Cook’s Guide to Eating Well During Ramadan,” while the New York Times offers Somalian Ramadan recipes to try this year. This site offers 50 Ramadan recipes to span the entire month, and from the UK, the BBC suggests 45 Ramadan recipes to try.

Muslims break the Ramadan fast with iftar at a restaurant in Dearborn, Mich. Photo by GPA Photo Archive, courtesy of Flickr


Muslims observe the month of Ramadan with a strict sunrise-to-sunset fast, which means that nothing passes the lips during those hours. For all healthy Muslim adults, food and drink (including water) is prohibited. Meanwhile, prayer is increased, as is reading from the Quran. According to Muslim belief, the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad occurred during Ramadan, and as such, observance of the month is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims partake in a pre-dawn meal known as the Suhoor, and do not return to eating until after sunset—with the iftar. Three dates customarily break the fast each day of Ramadan, prior to the iftar.

Fun fact: Though younger children are not required to fast during Ramadan, many attempt to try. To help children keep track of their fasting and see their success, the blog Inspiring the Love of Islam has created a free, downloadable Ramadan fasting tracker for children.





Najah Bazzy, author of The Beauty of Ramadanreminds readers in her opening pages that Ramadan is about far more than denial of food and water during daylight hours. Bazzy, a nationally known expert on cross-cultural healthcare, covers many of the health-related issues in her book. But she calls on a traditional text credited to the Prophet Muhammad for the deeper meaning of this special month. In addition to fasting, prayer and Quran study:

Give alms to the poor and the needy. Pay respect to your elders. Have pity on those younger than you and be kind toward your relatives and kinsmen. Guard your tongues against unworthy words, and your eyes from such scenes that are forbidden and your ears from such sounds as should not be heard. Be kind to orphans.



In addition to fasting, Muslims donate to charity during Ramadan. Charity, known as zakat, sometimes translated as “the poor-rate,” is an obligatory practice.

Laylat al-Qadr, or the “night of power,” is considered the holiest night of the year and commemorates the night the first revelation of the Quran was sent to Muhammad. Around the Islamic world, traditions vary for identifying the date of Laylat al-Qadr—though it is generally believed to fall on one of the odd-numbered nights of the last 10 days of Ramadan.

Clean Monday: Orthodox Great Fast of Lent begins with kites, seafood and lagana

Lagana bread, usually baked without oil, in a photo via Wikimedia Commons.

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 27: The flavors of shellfish and lagana bread are associated with the start of the Lenten season in Greece. Outside, colorful kites fly above the fields as Orthodox Christians mark Clean Monday.

Western Christians began the Lenten season of reflection that leads toward the celebration of Easter last week with Ash Wednesday.

The centuries-old tradition of observing Lent as a season of reflection and self-denial is intended to prepare Christians for the greatest festival in their religious calendar: Easter. However, the ever-changing date of Easter—and the method of counting 40 days in Lent—is one of the centuries-old differences among Christians East and West.

“Western Christians count Lent’s 40 days as starting with Ash Wednesday but excluding Sundays. Eastern Christians, those generally called Orthodox, start their 40 days on a Monday, counting Sundays, but excluding the week leading up to Easter.” That’s one of the intriguing details in the book, Our Lent: Things We Carry, by Read The Spirit magazine Editor David Crumm. “Some Christians fast; some don’t. Millions of Western Christians retain a custom of limited fasting; millions of Eastern Christians prayerfully make significant sacrifices during this season.”


Rather than begin Lent in a solemn manner, Clean Monday is celebrated as a public holiday in Greece and Cyprus: outdoor activities, zany local traditions, kite flying and plenty of Lenten-friendly food is par for the course. As shellfish is permitted in these cultures throughout Lent, a spread of extravagant dishes—based on the bounty of the sea—is common on Clean Monday in Greece.

Customs and traditions vary by locality in Greece on the first day the Lenten season, with colored flour being thrown into crowds in Glaxidi, on the northern coast of the Corinth Gulf; on the Greek island of Chios, a man dresses up as “Aga,” or “Ayas” (the tax collector), then he and his followers grab local villagers to put them into a mock trial. The “criminals” found guilty must suffer punishment or pay a fine that funds the village’s cultural association.


The flying of kites across Greece welcomes spring in a colorful and festive manner, and many traditional kite makers pride themselves on decades of experience. When out and about, picnic baskets are often filled with lagana, an unleavened bread baked only for Clean Monday, and taramosalata, a dip made of salted and cured roe mixed with olive oil, lemon juice and bread crumbs. Feasts of bean soup, shellfish dishes, octopus platters, shrimp dishes and more are carefully prepared for a Clean Monday extravaganza.

In Greece, lagana is usually baked on large sheets and cut into smaller portions for serving. The bread is decorated with sesame seeds, which add a distinct flavor and texture to the bread. Aside from its cultural significance, lagana bread is also delicious and nutritious. It is low in fat and high in fiber, making it an ideal food for people who are observing the Lenten fast. The sesame seeds on top of the bread add a nutty flavor and a satisfying crunch, making it a popular snack for people of all ages.

Interested in baking lagana? Find a recipe at the blog Lemon & Olives, or at The Greek Vegan.


Four Chaplains: Congregations honor interfaith heroism during World War II

Black-and-white stamp of Four Immortal Chaplains

This U.S. postage stamp was issued in honor of the Four Immortal Chaplains in 1948. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2023—In many chapels and congregations nationwide, a Four Chaplains observance is held every year on February 3rd to remember and honor four brave chaplains who sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others.

On February 3, 1943, the US Army transport ship Dorchester was carrying 902 soldiers, civilians, and crew members across the North Atlantic. Suddenly, the ship was hit by a German torpedo and started sinking rapidly. Panic and chaos broke out among the passengers, many of whom could not swim.

The ship was rapidly sinking, panic ensued—but four chaplains—the Rev. George Fox (Methodist), Rabbi Alexander Good (Jewish), the Rev. Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Fr. John Washington (Roman Catholic)—spread out and began helping the wounded and panicked. Amid the chaos, the four chaplains calmly offered prayers and encouraging words as they helped people to lifeboats.

When they realized that there weren’t enough life jackets for everyone, the chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to the soldiers who couldn’t swim. The chaplains then linked arms and said prayers for the soldiers, comforting them as the ship went down.

All four chaplains lost their lives in the sinking of the Dorchester, but their actions inspired many and became a symbol of selfless heroism and interfaith cooperation. The annual observance of Four Chaplains Day is a time to remember and honor these brave men and their sacrifice for others. It serves as a reminder of the power of love, compassion, and unity in times of adversity.

Ceremonies in honor of the courageous men emphasize “unity without uniformity,” a primary part of the mission of the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation. The Chapel of the Four Chaplains was dedicated by President Harry S. Truman in 1951. In 1988, an act of Congress officially declared February 3 as an annual Four Chaplains Day.


The four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross. In 1960, a Congressional Medal of Valor was created and presented to the chaplains’ next of kin. Stained glass windows of the men still exist in a number of chapels across the country—and at the Pentagon—and each year, American Legions posts nationwide continue to honor the Four Chaplains with memorial services. The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation continues to honor those who exemplify the heroic traits of the Four Chaplains, promoting “unity without uniformity.”

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Circular wall of millions of old photos and written info beneath some

The Hall of Names commemorating the millions of Jews killed during the Holocaust, as part of Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, JANUARY 27: Each year, international remembrances of the Holocaust occur on two major occasions: This International Holocaust Remembrance Day was established by the United Nations, marking the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp on January 27, 1945. The other globally observed memorial is Yom Hashoah, which was established in Israel and begins in 2022 on the evening of April 17.

Member states of the UN have developed educational programs, conducted memorial ceremonies and instituted remembrances over the years. If you follow this UN link, you will find a gateway to UN-recommended resources. There are lots of materials to explore from that homepage, including The World Memory Project and a guide to Remembering Survivors and Victims.

This year, event organizers are especially concerned about the rising tide of antisemitism around the world. From across the U.S., here is a sampling of headlines exploring this problem:

ASSOCIATED PRESS: Antisemitic celebrities stoke fears of normalizing hate

THE WASHINGTON POST: Survey finds ‘classical fascist’ antisemitic views widespread in U.S.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Hate Speech’s Rise on Twitter Is Unprecedented, Researchers Find

NPR: Anti-Defamation League survey finds a spike in antisemitic beliefs

Also from NPR: How to address antisemitic rhetoric when you encounter it

Pew Research Shows: Education Is Essential

Researchers, educators and historians know that Holocaust Education is a global challenge. In the U.S., more public schools nationwide began including the Holocaust in standard curriculum after a public outcry sparked by a 1978 TV miniseries. Today, most school systems in the U.S. include the subject—however, awareness of this vast genocidal campaign by Nazi Germany varies widely around the world.

Pew Research has examined Americans’ knowledge about the Holocaust, concluding:

Most U.S. adults know what the Holocaust was and approximately when it happened, but fewer than half can correctly answer multiple-choice questions about the number of Jews who were murdered or the way Adolf Hitler came to power, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

When asked to describe in their own words what the Holocaust was, more than eight-in-ten Americans mention the attempted annihilation of the Jewish people or other related topics, such as concentration or death camps, Hitler, or the Nazis. Seven-in-ten know that the Holocaust happened between 1930 and 1950. And close to two-thirds know that Nazi-created ghettos were parts of a city or town where Jews were forced to live.

Fewer than half of Americans (43%), however, know that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany through a democratic political process. And a similar share (45%) know that approximately 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Nearly three-in-ten Americans say they are not sure how many Jews died during the Holocaust, while one-in-ten overestimate the death toll, and 15% say that 3 million or fewer Jews were killed.

Read the entire Pew report, including charts that provide detailed break-outs of the data.

In Chinese communities around the world, this New Year of the Rabbit roars in like a lion!

SUNDAY, JANUARY 22, 2023—Millions of Chinese families around the world are welcoming the Year of the Rabbit in what is the most widely celebrated Chinese holiday of the year. The movement of millions of people to gather for this holiday is sometimes described as one of the greatest annual human migrations on planet Earth. But the animal most non-Chinese observers are likely to see in holiday photos and videos is the lion, specifically the enormous, colorful costumes prepared for annual lion dances at community festivals. Also dominating images of this two-week festival is the color red, which is considered auspicious and homophonous with the Chinese word for “prosperous.”

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Official style guides for journalists allow references to “Chinese New Year” as well as “Lunar New Year” or “Spring Festival,” however, there is widespread public discussion about the fact that this festival is celebrated across many Asian countries and in Asian communities around the world. The phrase “Lunar New Year” seems to be emerging as the preferred reference.

WHY IS IT A ‘SPRING’ FESTIVAL? The celebration traditionally marks warmer weather—or at least the hope that warmer weather is coming.

The festival mainly is known as a time for gatherings among family and friends—much like Americans expect to “come home” for Thanksgiving and Christmas. When the New Year approaches, it is customarily ushered in with a Reunion Dinner that is replete with symbolic foods. For two weeks, visits are made and hosted with family and friends, gifts are exchanged and merriment is par for the course.


Legend has it that when the Buddha (or the Jade Emperor) invited animals to a New Year’s celebration, only 12 showed up; these 12 animals were each rewarded with a year. Earthly Branches were the original terms used for the years, but animals were later added as mnemonics and categorized as either yin or yang. Ten Celestial Stems pair with the Earthly Branches for a 60-year calendrical cycle. This year is the year of the Earth element and the 12th Zodiac animal, the pig.

Tradition has it that a person’s birth year indicates that he or she will possess the characteristics of the animal in reign during that year. (Just be careful! The year of someone’s Zodiac animal isn’t exactly considered lucky, and wearing red every day for that year is considered a means of protection from evil spirits and bad fortune.)


Unrivaled among Chinese holidays, the New Year begins weeks in advance with families cleaning and hanging paper cutouts in their homes, shopping for fish, meats and other specialty foods, and purchasing new clothing. Businesses pay off debts, gifts are distributed to business associates and everything is completed according to symbolism—for good luck, prosperity and health in the coming year. In Buddhist and Taoist households, home altars and statues are cleaned.

On the eve of the New Year, a Reunion Dinner is shared with extended family members. Dumplings, meat dishes, fish and an assortment of hot and cold dishes are considered essential for the table. Traditionally, red envelopes filled with money or chocolate coins are given to children. Following dinner, some families visit a local temple.

Foods and decor of red and gold on table

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

For the next two weeks, feasts will be shared with family and friends, fireworks will fill the skies and parades with dragons and costumes will fill the streets. Friends and relatives frequently bring a Tray of Togetherness to the households they visit, as a token of thanks to the host. Through the New Year festivities, elders are honored and deities are paid homage, with all festivities being wrapped up with the Lantern Festival.


If carryout isn’t your idea of an authentic Chinese experience, check out these sites for delicious New Year recipes:


What are we proclaiming when we wish someone ‘Happy’ Holidays?

Nine lit candles on a menorah, close-up from low perspective

A menorah lit for Hanukkah. Photo by saildancer, courtesy of pixabay

(Editor’s note: In 2022, Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 18.)

Author of Torah Tutor

In this season of expressing wishes to friends and family, I could wish each of you a Happy Hannukah and New Year. But what exactly are we wishing when we exchange such greetings?

Many American greetings include the word “happy.” Happy Birthday, Happy Thanksgiving and coming up shortly, Happy New Year. It’s commonplace for Jews to wish each other “Happy New Year”—especially before Rosh HaShanah, but that is not an accurate translation of the traditional greeting we traditionally exchange, “Shana Tova!”

“Shana Tova” does not mean “Happy New Year;” it means “Good New Year.” To what does this refer? Primarily it refers to the Jewish value of imbuing the coming year with acts of goodness. I think it also reflects the use of the word “tov” “good” in the creation story, which is what Rosh HaShanah commemorates. In that story, God calls everything in creation—even and especially human beings—good. “And God saw that it was GOOD.”

I think “Shana Tova” is a reminder to treat creation and each other as valuable, purposeful, beautiful and desirable—just as creation is described in Genesis. Very different from “happy.” The word “happy” is etymologically related to the words, “haphazard” and “happenstance.” Randomness is implied, and chance.

Goodness is rarely random or by chance. When we wish someone “Shana Tova,” we are not wishing them something tenuous, fleeting or improbable.

A related Jewish concept is “simcha” coming from the word “sameach.” A simcha is always a happy event but it is much more. It doesn’t describe a party or contrived occasion; it is an event that is planned to celebrate an accomplishment (Bar/Bat Mitzvah) or an intention about the future (a wedding). A simcha is the culmination of a process, the result of a deliberate effort to achieve something. And a simcha is always shared by a group. It has a significant communal element.

In the Torah, the holiday of Sukkot is called “Zeman (time or season) of our Rejoicing.” And the Torah specifically says who is to celebrate: you, your household, the stranger, the orphan and the widow. What does this teach? That a component of celebration, or experiencing joy, is to include those who are on the edges of the community.

That’s a challenging question at this time of year, isn’t it?

How many of us include the marginalized in our communities in our festive planning?

I’m raising this question early, this year. There’s still time to adapt your own festive plans!

Another Hebrew word associated with “happy” is Asher. “Ashrey” is a word you may recognize from the prayer “Ashrey Yoshvay V’techa…” It is sometimes translated as “happy” but a more accurate translation is “blessed.” “Ashrey” carries the connotation of feeling whole, connected and at peace. “Happy” to me seems more like a passing feeling. “Ashrey” is deep and more lasting. Not in the sense of being “up” all the time, but feeling basically and essentially at peace, despite the ups and downs that accompany each day and each life.

“Ashrey” is not what happens when you get a gift or even a promotion. It is the starting and returning point regardless of whether or not you get the gift or promotion.

It is interesting to me that Leah’s first three sons are named for what she desires: attention from Jacob (who prefers Leah’s sister, Rachel). Only her fourth son’s name, Yehudah, reflects appreciation for what she has been given. “Yehudah” means “give thanks.” Her son Asher, “contentment” if you will, is born after Yehudah,“give thanks.”

Rabbi Evan Moffic wrote a book called The Happiness Prayer in 2017. He based it on the Eilu Devarim prayer that says: These are the things that are limitless, that a person enjoys the fruit of in this world, while the principal remains in the world to come. They are: honoring one’s father and mother, engaging in deeds of lovingkindness, being open to study, welcoming guests, visiting the sick, providing for the bride and accompanying the dead for burial, praying enthusiastically and bringing peace among people. But to study Torah is to encompass all this.”

The author rephrases the opening of this prayer in question form: “How will you find happiness in this world and peace in the world to come? By learning these wisdom practices from your ancestors: Honor those who gave you life. Be kind. Keep learning. Invite others into your life. Be there when others need you. Celebrate good times. Support others during times of loss. Pray with intention. Forgive. Look inside and commit.”

I don’t know that I would describe someone who lives this way as “happy,” but I would certainly see them as focused, caring, generous and humble.

So, this year, I will leave you with my best wishes in these words:

May your holidays be filled with gratitude and appreciation, inclusion and embracing, love, meaning, hope and healing!



For more on Rabbi Lenore Bohm …

VISIT RABBI LENORE’S RESOURCE PAGE: Go to TorahTutorBook.com to find more information about her ongoing work and her new book.

YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY her column about Rosh Hashanah this year.

Order a copy of her new book from Amazon.









Allhallowtide, Samhain and Dia de los Muertos: A trio of ‘Halloween’

Dia de los Muertos dancers

Dressed up for a Dia de los Muertos festival. Photo by Ted McGrath, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, OCTOBER 31-WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 2: Deeply rooted in a centuries-old Gaelic and Irish seasonal festival known as Samhain, today’s Halloween is considered by many to be the only time of year that spirits can roam the earth. From Samhain to Mexico’s Day of the Dead, world cultures celebrate the belief that at this time of year, the veil between this world and the next is particularly thin and ancestors are held close. Don’t worry, it’s not all solemn and bone-chilling, though—today’s secular Halloween also brings out bright Jack-o-lanterns, loads of candy and a pretty good excuse for adults to join in on the costuming fun with kids. So grab your best ghoulish mask and get the (Halloween) party started!


Allhallowtide, the triduum of Halloween, recalls deceased spirits, saints (hallows) and martyrs alike, in one collective commemoration. The word Halloween is of Christian origin, and many Christians visit graveyards during this time to pray and place flowers and candles at the graves of their deceased loved ones. The two days following All Hallows Eve—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day—pay homage to the souls that Christians believe are now with God. In medieval England, Christians went “souling” on Halloween, begging for soul cakes in exchange for prayers in local churches.

Halloween’s secular side has emerged during the past century, and today, trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, visiting haunted houses, watching horror movies and dressing up like favored characters has become custom in Western culture. Recent estimates are that the very diverse American business of “haunted attractions” brings in hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and the commercial elements of Halloween have spread from North America to Europe, South America, Australia, Japan and parts of East Asia.


The original Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and ushered in winter, or the “darker half” of the year, in Gaelic Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. During this time of year, bonfires were lit for the purpose of divination and as a protective and cleansing measure. Legend has it that spirits could easily come to earth, and many people would leave out food and drink for the roaming entities.

In many households, ancestors were welcomed to the table with particular enthusiasm, and large meals were prepared. Multiple sites in Ireland were, and still are, associated with Samhain, and the spirits that emerge there at this time of year. Guising—donning a costume—was thought to “trick” ill-intentioned spirits roaming the streets near Samhain, and hallowed-out turnips were lit with a candle and placed in windows, their monstrous carved faces frightening bad spirits.

Today’s Samhain emerged as part of the late 19th century Celtic Revival, and Neopagans, Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans and Wiccans all celebrate the holiday, in slightly varying ways. Most keep the widespread traditions of lighting bonfires, paying homage to ancestors, welcoming the “darker” season and preparing feasts with apples, nuts, meats, seasonal vegetables and mulled wines.


Vibrant decorations for Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, mark towns in Mexico and Latin American communities far and wide, as the lives of the departed are celebrated with vigor. The full festival of Dia de los Muertos typically lasts two or three days (in some regions, customs begin on October 31), and traditionally, November 1 pays tribute to the souls of children and the innocent while November 2 is dedicated to deceased adult souls. In Mexico, relatives adorn altars and graves with elaborate garlands and wreaths, crosses made of flowers and special foods. Families gather in cemeteries, where pastors bestow prayers upon the dead. For children, Dia de los Muertos celebrations mean candy like sugar skulls and once-a-year treats; music and dancing delight celebrants of all ages.


What’s Halloween without some good costumes and tasty treats?